Let's Talk About Loving Yourself Well

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My mind works in interesting ways. When I listen closely to what’s on my heart and decide to write on it, my mind starts seeing moments. I see my people all trying to navigate their present moment and all striving for the version of self-love that makes the most sense for them.

I see myself looking on and wishing I could do for them what they, at my lowest and most vulnerable, wished they could do for me.

The journey of self-love sounds so incredibly cliche as a phrase, but it’s maybe because its power isn’t in the way we describe it but instead in the way we try to live it. I can’t tell you what shifted in me over the span of twenty-five, but I can tell you that I didn’t care what each self-help book called it, whether it was worthiness anchored in God or the universe’s love for me, or how messy my process looked like from the outside — I cared that I found bravery to accept that I didn’t love myself well. I love others so well in an attempt to search for feelings that I also needed to be finding in myself. It’s never made my love for my people weaker or less true, but it did open my eyes to how fake my love for myself was. 

My love for myself was conditional and I’m convinced that is a truth so many others can relate to. We don’t fall in love with ourselves the same way we do with our partners. In them we see redemptive qualities that make their rougher edges inconsequential to how we love them. We see them for who they are and a great part of us probably love them because of their humanity, not in spite of it.

To follow along with often-used cliches, my wish for you is that you learn to build a strong foundation of acceptance and love for yourself. Pick the person you feel loves you the best and in the truest way, ask them why they love you, and when they answer try to figure out whether you believe their internalization of you. I asked some of my closest people this when I was struggling the most with myself at the beginning of this year. They didn’t say that they loved me for what I’d accomplished, they said they love me because who I am as a person when no one is watching is the same person I am when I’m in the limelight. I could have nothing to show in results, but those who love me for me would still love me because I show up as myself every day in the process.

One of self-worth’s biggest hurdles to overcome are the other people - the people who stand in for all the limited ways we love ourselves. Those who want to be around us because of who they think we are, who the world thinks we are, or how the world would see them for being next to us. I was 10 the first time I saw a person stand by my side with an agenda. It was my first day back at school after my mom had died, I was walking up four flights of stairs with four heavy text books in my arms and a backpack on my back, and suddenly all the girls who’d strongly disliked my fifth grade self were offering to carry my books. To some degree their gesture was in kindness, on another it was because they wanted to look kind. They only ever talked to me when others could see them trying to befriend a girl whose mom had just died. In the long run those girls did the most damage to my self-esteem because in them I had examples that I equated to proof that some people only wanted to be around me because my position of pain gave them the chance to be a savior. They taught me that I was only worthy of kindness if I was in pain. For too long I believed them. For too long I invited pain in because I wanted the kindness that came with it.

Then and now, I didn’t need saving. No one needs to be saved, we all need to be loved and to feel like a priority no matter our highest or lowest moments. To decide to love yourself is the biggest act of rebellion and self-care. It’s a high that never stops giving. It’s also a process you never arrive at a destination for.

I had to learn to love myself when the silence was my only friend and the things I hated about myself were the only ones talking back. It’s not easy because during the quiet time you don’t learn how to expel those hurtful inner voices, you just learn to turn the volume up on the good ones. I still struggle with the voices that attach my worth to how much I weigh, how much I sacrifice for others, or how much pain I can take without breaking. The shift happens when you accept that just because the voices are present doesn’t mean they have as much power over you as you once thought they did.

Silence and isolation only lasted so long for me, but it’s where I got the tools that help me figure out how to love myself well even while I’m in a relationship. It’s where I found that I didn’t need a certificate that says I had mastered loving myself or that I would never need silence again, in order to be loved well. I needed to be in the process of balancing my love with that of someone else’s. Mostly because I will never have mastered loving myself, no one ever will, and I do need silence, maybe now more than I ever did.

For every anxious moment in my relationships that would have historically led me to be too anxious to eat or too likely to overcompensate in an effort to make others happy, I try to breathe. Sometimes I cry. Most times I come out the other side loving myself out loud a little more. Mostly because I sit and I give myself time to journal and just be with myself.

We get so many opportunities on any given day to love ourselves well. We decide on self-love when we give ourselves permission to be loved by others in meaningful ways, when we take time for ourselves without judgement or apology, when we look in the mirror and accept that our most complicated relationships also happen to be the ones that give us the greatest opportunity to learn to love.